Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Movie Review: A Scanner Darkly

I can easily start this review out by saying I have just seen one of the most intriguing films of our time.
But I won't, at least not yet. I want to let you know some of the logistics first.

A Scanner Darkly is a Richard Linklater film based on the book of the same name by Philip K. Dick. You may recognize Philip K. Dick's previous books turned to movies that have become underground/cult favorites, "Blade Runner," which was based on his book "Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?" and "Minority Report." With this portfolio you can safely assume that the movie is a bit of a Sci-Fi movie. Well, not quite, at least not too far fetched. But then again that's what makes Mr. Dick's books more interesting is that they don't require a stretch to be believable.

With the Sci-Fi aspect of the film grabbing some attention, another aspect of the film is that Richard Linklater did some very creative cinematography. Borrowing some animation techniques from Ralph Bakshi, this film used real actors that became animated. Ralph Bakshi films were most famous for his "rotoscoping" in which the actors were filmed but the movie was animated over the film. (Some great examples of this are "Cool World" starring Kim Basinger and Brad Pitt, "The Lord of the Rings {the animated version}, "Wizards" and my favorite "American Pop") The actors were filmed and the images were then turned to animation, at times just simply coloring in the faces and clothes to some very elaborate hallucinations and effects. So now you have 2 intriguing aspects of the film.

The next intriguing aspect is the AWESOME cast used in the film. Individually all the actors are underrated and have very unique personalities, but thrown together in this ensemble creates a completely different view of the craft of acting. The actors are:
Keanu Reeves .... Fred/Bob Arctor

Rory Cochrane .... Freck

Robert Downey Junior .... Barris

Woody Harrelson .... Luckman

Winona Ryder .... Donna

These actors all do a great job in portraying some very interesting characters. Yes the "animation" helps but the director still filmed their movements and facial expressions and they are used. At times I found myself thinking there was some typecasting going on...but then I get the realization that these guys are really just great actors and need more roles like this.

Now for the rundown. The film takes place 7 years from now, in Los Angeles, a future where America has lost the war on drugs. When one reluctant undercover cop is ordered to start spying on his friends, he is launched on a paranoid journey into the absurd, where identities and loyalties are impossible to decode. In fact, Bob Arctor (Reeves), at some point is not sure if he is keeping watch on himself or his friends and at times loses his own identity. New-Path (a major corporation) has created a new drug called Substance "D" and while other drug use in the story is "acceptable" the police want to stop the dealing of Substance "D." New-Path has also created a major system in which the police can actively watch everyone everywhere (very Big Brotherish) except on the campus of the corporation. And to make matters worse the undercover police are so far under cover that they cannot appear in a professional manner unless wearing a scramble suit, which holographically portrays the wearer into multiple appearances to be the "ultimate everyman." So the police don't even know who's who on the force.

In the process of being undercover, Arctor, becomes addicted to the Substance "D" and soon loses all concepts of reality. At this point the movie becomes a rollercoaster of plot twists and turns, that no-one can predict the final outcome. And it is a great surprise ending, which I won't giveaway, but will give you a heads up: "Give her small blue flowers."

With the use of animation, the constant twists, and each character behaving so "bizarrely" you may feel as if you, yourself are using some psychotropic substance, but you can relax...it's just a movie. In fact you may have to watch it twice, to get the full efect. Then you will realize that you, like me, have seen the most intriguing film of our time.

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